Are Christians who appear on reality shows shown in a negative light, if so what are the repercussions and is it a good idea to go on these shows in the first place? Andrew Hamilton-Thomas looks into it.
Reality television has actually been around longer than most people think. In fact the concept of televising ordinary people in unscripted situations goes back to just after WWII. One of the first examples from the 60’s was a British documentary produced by Granada Television entitled Seven Up!, which followed the lives of a group of ordinary seven years olds from different socio-economic backgrounds, and would subsequently ‘check-in’ on them every 7 years.
Now in the 21st century we’ve seen an explosion in reality television from all corners of the globe with shows such as Keeping Up With The Kardashians, The Real Housewives, The Only Way Is Essex, Love & Hip-Hop and so much more. The fascination of watching people in unscripted situations has always captivated large audiences, and TV networks are constantly scrambling to commission new reality shows with a twist and renew existing ones to keep the viewers at home tuned in. With this trend showing no sign of slowing down, what we’ve seen in recent years is the trend of Christian-themed reality TV shows jumping on the bandwagon- which hasn’t come without its own controversy.
Is it the nature of the beast?
Christian, former drug addict and Eastenders star Daniella Westbrook is currently one of the contestants on this season of Big Brother. Being renowned for fights, shocking confessions and compromising situations, the 15 year old UK reality TV show has facilitated in Ms Westbrook engaging in arguments and admitting to eye opening sexual encounters. The nature of reality TV shows (having people in ‘supposedly’ unscripted situations) means that the makers of such shows often have to resort to introducing plot elements, clever editing (and even scripts in some cases) in order to keep the viewers engaged and the ratings up. It is these factors, which separate reality TV from documentaries; one being factual and the other for purely entertainment purposes. It is because of this that the requirement to give a truthful reflection of the whole content recorded becomes less of a priority.
What are the dangers of Christian-themed reality shows?
17 Kids and Counting was arguably the first Christian-themed mainstream reality TV show and at the height of its success, it averaged 2.3 million viewers per new episode in its tenth season. It followed the lives of The Duggars’, a family of strict Baptists who portrayed a lifestyle of purity, modesty and faith in God. The series however came to an abrupt halt and was suspended indefinitely when it emerged that the eldest son Josh had molested five girls (which included his own sisters) according In Touch Weekly.
Now in all fairness, these kinds of revelations would damage and in all likelihood lead to the cancellation of any reality TV show. But the problem with scandals and controversies arising from Christian-based reality shows is that we are judged more harshly then others because of the very fact that we are Christians. In other words, Christian reality shows face an uphill battle to gain the same kind of legitimacy as non-faith based shows. So the question has to be asked, should we even be following the trend of reality based television programming? Well that all depends on the intentions of the creators behind such shows and the participants in question.
Subsequent faith-based reality shows such as Preachers of LA (PoLA) have drawn criticism from high-profile figures both inside and outside of Christendom, such as Gospel artist Kirk Franklin and comedian D.L. Hughley who both agreed that the show (and presumably others like it) actually turned people away from God. One of the main problems with PoLA is that it glorified the flashy lifestyles of the preachers involved. Now it certainly isn’t a sin to be rich and this is clear when you look at the wealth acquired by the likes of Abraham, Job and David (to name a few) over the course of their lives. However, the scriptures clearly warn us against not only the love of money but also the pride of possessions (1 John 2:16). This coupled with the stigma that church leaders (particularly high profile ones) seemingly only set out to fleece their congregation in order to fund extravagant lifestyles does nothing to add credibility to faith-based reality shows.
‘Healthy people don't need a doctor, sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners’ (Mark 2:17)
So have faith-based reality shows ever worked?
That’s a very good question. There doesn’t seem to be many examples in all honesty. Although not all faith-based shows concerning high-profile participants will focus on the extravagant aspects of their lifestyle, they still suffer from the sensational aspects of editing that focuses on dramatic twists and ‘he said she said’ style interviews to keep the viewers engaged. KnockTV’s Surrender The Secret is a good example where a faith-based show didn’t focus on outlandish behaviour and petty squabble,s but instead focused on broken people that sought solace and healing through the word of God. Jesus said, ‘Healthy people don't need a doctor, sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners’ (Mark 2:17). This is the angle that all faith-based reality shows should take. After all, despite the fame that Jesus acquired during His ministry on earth he never sought or revelled in it as some Christian reality TV stars do, but rather he exalted servanthood (Mark 10:45).
What seems to be more effective than a Christian-themed reality show is having a Christian in a secular reality show to see how they interact and evangelise to their co-stars. Before participating in any reality show (faith-based or otherwise), a Christian should always be mindful of their actions whether on camera or not, how they will be portrayed, and most importantly how will they bring glory to God (which requires being sensitive to the Holy Spirit).
How should Christians respond to controversial faith-based shows?
All Christians should be unanimous in condemning shows that undermine what our faith is about and we saw this with the recent cancellation of the Lifetime reality show, The Prophetess. If a show seems to place more emphasis on wearing your Sunday best and ‘looking’ holy, then it’s no different from the Pharisees that Jesus described in Luke 11:43.
A Christian’s life is meant to be a testimony for the purpose of preaching the good news which is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Every Christian must consider this before participating in any kind of reality show. Otherwise it becomes more about self and less about Christ (John 3:30).
Written by Andrew Hamilton Thomas
Andrew is an aspiring political journalist, cartoonist and contributor for the Orator & Croydon Citizen